From child’s play to the artist’s way: how female-led Austin framing business became the 6th fastest-growing brand in the USA
“The slogan here is ‘Keep Austin Weird’ and it really celebrates the city’s entrepreneurial spirit. Whether you’re standing in line at the coffee shop or finishing a yoga class, you’ll bump into entrepreneurs – and the amount of support and introductions you get from being in a city like this has been so strong for us.” – Natasha McRee, Founder at Wexel Art
Female-led, art-centred and based in one of the most dynamic cities in the States; framing and art retailer Wexel Art is a fine example of a business built on bold creativity.
The brainchild of Founders Natasha McRee and Morgan Doherty, the Austin-based framing and art brand has flourished since the hallway conversation that inspired the business way back in 2009. It just won fastest-growing Homeware retailer in the USA, and placed sixth overall, in Brightpearl’s lauded Lightning 50 rankings; but despite the brand’s impressive 89% growth rate in the last year, Natasha was surprised to make the final cut.
“We thought, ‘This is a longshot but let’s try’,” she says of applying. “The Brightpearl community is extremely diverse, so to make the list was unexpected – but to be in the top ten is really amazing.
“It’s a great validation point for how hard we’ve worked over the last decade. I’d encourage all companies to go for it, you never know unless you try.”
THINKING ‘INSIDE’ THE BOX
Morgan and Natasha came up with Wexel Art’s star product as a simple way of showcasing an ever-changing collection of family photos and children’s drawings – an acrylic, clear frame that holds the art in place with tiny magnets, allowing easy switching of the piece on display. Since then, their novel solution to art display has attracted the likes of not only parents but artists, interior designers and architects – anyone who wants to decorate their walls with their wares.
With an HQ in Austin, Texas, the framing retailer operates via their own Shopify web store and online marketplaces such as Wayfair, Michael’s and Amazon, and occasionally sets up at key trade shows targeting the Interior Design and retailers in Vegas, High Point and Dallas. Both Morgan and Natasha believe their base in Texas’s trailblazing capital is the perfect place to start out in business.
“The community here is amazing,” says Natasha. “The slogan is ‘Keep Austin Weird’ and it really celebrates the city’s entrepreneurial spirit.
“Whether you’re standing in line at the coffee shop or finishing a yoga class, you’ll bump into entrepreneurs – and the amount of support and introductions you get from being in a city like this has been so strong for us.”
With a customer base that includes at-home consumers as well as artists, designers and businesses, the brand has since branched into selling the art itself, partnering with lesser-known illustrators and artists who wouldn’t otherwise get exposure for their work. Natasha says this expansion into new categories has gone a long way in boosting Wexel’s popularity – though Covid certainly helped since consumers were home, staring at their blank walls, and prioritized investing their time and money in their home.
“The pandemic slowed things down at first, but people were kept at home, contemplating their empty walls and it ended up being a good business builder for us,” she says.
“Customers love our product line because you can’t typically find these products in Macy’s or Bed, Bath and Beyond. A product like Wexel really stands out in the decor space.”
It was during this fusion of growth that Natasha and Morgan realised the business needed to refresh their own framework – in backend operations. With a time-intensive inventory system and a ‘cobbled together’ mix of various technologies like Quickbooks, Shopify and SPS Commerce, as well as numerous external spreadsheets that required hours of manual data entry, the Founders realised they were losing valuable time and accuracy without a central source of truth.
“The last straw came when I asked Morgan for some custom size frame quotes, and she said “But I’m on Day 17 of working on this inventory reconciliation,” explains Natasha.
“We had huge swings in inventory and depended on a third party for information, which wasn’t reliable – so we were banging our heads against the wall trying to understand it. We knew there must be a better way.”
Wexel Art had heard of Brightpearl’s retail-focused operating system, and so met with other users to discuss their experiences firsthand. Everything they heard was positive.
In 2020, the brand begin implementing the Brightpearl just as the City of Austin mandated stay at home orders, and our volume was starting to increase. Working from home, allowed us to focus on migrating to Brightpearl, along with really great in-house training and the support of Brightpearl’s expert implementation consultants, Wexel Art was set up in around five months.
A STROKE OF GENIUS
Every member of the Wexel team now uses Brightpearl daily. Morgan says she can barely remember what it was like before the system was installed.
“I can’t imagine life without Brightpearl now – it’s so integral to our day-to-day work. The technology where it integrates with our EDI platforms is really amazing,” she says.
“We used to have to manually upload inventory to six different systems every day. Now Brightpearl does that on our behalf, with no manual input required.
“It’s also given us a visual dashboard, a true means for visibility. We’re able to see exactly where orders are, where in the purchase cycle we’re at, when an item will come back into stock – and know that information is correct.”
Brightpearl’s advanced inventory management feature has been a huge game-changer for Wexel Art, and, according to Morgan, saves the team an immense 40 hours a week – a full-time member of staff – that was formerly spent on laborious manual tasks.
As a growing, multichannel outfit with big goals for further expansion, a major benefit for Wexel was Brightpearl’s world-class library of Plug & Play integrations, which swiftly extended to the brand’s existing apps, such as Shopify, Quickbooks, Wayfair, Amazon and Klaviyo. This progressive connectivity gives them the means to be hyper-scalable; able to easily customize their tech stack as they scale.
“We just onboarded Pottery Barn, and Brightpearl has been instrumental in allowing us to onboard the big retailers,” Natasha says.
“This connectivity was a huge driver for us to reach new heights. We have the means to adapt easily. Adding the next national retailer, with Brightpearl, we know we’ll be supported to do that.”
Incredibly, despite their huge successes, the Wexel Art team has stayed ‘small and mighty’ with only six staff members. Natasha believes having the Brightpearl system as their central source of truth, offering 360-degree insights across their entire business, is to credit for that.
“Our team has always been multi-talented, able to put their hand to anything and not stay siloed within a specific role, and that’s why Brightpearl works for us.
“It’s empowered each of our staff members to follow up an order, check inventory, catch if one of our suppliers is letting us down, and so on – so it’s been a powerful tool in levelling the playing field, as everyone in the team can use the same system.
“It also means the onus isn’t on Morgan and I to do everything, so we’re freed up to focus on long-term projects and product development.”
The extra time is definitely well spent. Alongside plans to create new products, partner with a broader network of artists and use further their marketing and social media efforts, the Wexel Art team is committed to giving back.
“For us it’s so important that we have capacity to serve the community,” Natasha says. “Whether that’s raising money for hurricane relief, mentoring local students; or even recently, where we partnered with artists in Ukraine to raise funds for their war efforts.
“Also in regards to being female-led, we see that as an honour. We want to inspire and empower women in business – whether that’s an intern who starts out her career with us, a female artist who isn’t getting the exposure she deserves, or incredible interior designers who use Wexel Art as a resource for their creative work. It’s all something we’re very proud of, and something we’re adamant we have the time to focus on.”
THE BIG PICTURE
As a company that constantly broadens its horizons, it’s no surprise that Wexel Art is fully on track to achieve more of the ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goals’ that has gotten the brand this far. Natasha and Morgan feel confident that despite the unpredictability of the coming years, they’ll be equipped to tackle the hurdles.
“Growth has slowed down, as we expected – the US economy has pulled back somewhat – but we’re using this time to build out the next phase,” says Natasha.
“For us, it’s all about listening to our customers – they’re the ones who have truly guided our direction and growth. That’s something we’ve always done and something we’ll continue to do.”
Morgan agrees that following the Lightning 50 win, and with Brightpearl’s operational support giving them the space to move forward, the brand is in a great place.
“I love where we are and I love where we’re heading – and I’m confident that we have the right people and systems in place to get us where we want to go.”
To discover how Brightpearl can transform multichannel operations for rapidly growing e-commerce retailers, book a demo today.
Placed 6th in Lightning 50 with 89% revenue growth
Brightpearl saves team 40 hours a week in manual tasks